- “Middle-range theory … is intermediate to general theories of social systems … and to those detailed orderly descriptions of particulars that are not generalized at all” (Merton 1968:39-40).
Now the bad news. In an early study comparing the concept of Binford and Merton, Raab and Goodyear mischaracterized Merton’s views:
- “middle-range theory is seen as providing a logical link between relatively low-order empirical generalizations and comparatively high-order theories.”(Raab, and Goodyear 1984)
Now check out two later descriptions of Merton’s middle-range theory (NOT Binford’s) by archaeologists:
- Middle range theory is: “a logical link between relatively low-level, empiristic generalizations and comparatively high-level theories.” (Forslund 2004). He cites Raab and Goodyear for this concept.
- Middle-range theories are “theories that fell in the range between empirical generalizations and ‘grand theory’ ” (Johnson 2010:53). He does not cite Raab and Goodyear.
Well, my head is starting to hurt with all this talk of epistemology. I’m more of an empirical than a theoretical thinker, and maybe I’m way off base here. But to me, Merton’s concept seems extremely important for a scientific archaeology. I resent Binford for hijacking the term middle-range theory and I resent Raab and Goodyear for mischaracterizing Merton’s ideas. These two developments have slowed the adoption of contemporary social science explanatory frameworks by archaeologists. These frameworks rely on Merton’s middle-range theory. Check them out:
- (Bates, et al. 1998; Bunge 2004; Hedström 2005; Hedström, and Ylikoski 2010; Mayntz 2004; Pawson 2000; Tilly 2001)
Bates, Robert H., Avner Greif, Margaret Levi, Jean-Laurent Rosenthal and Barry Weingast (1998) Analytic Narratives. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.
Bunge, Mario (2004) How Does It Work?: The Search for Explanatory Mechanisms. Philosophy of the Social Sciences 34(2):182-210.
Forslund, Pontus (2004) MRT Confidential. In Material Culture and other Things - Post-disciplinary Studies in the 21st century, edited by Frekrik Fahlander and Terje Oestigaard, pp. 213-258. Gotarc Series C. vol. 61. University of Gothenburg, Gothengurg.
Hedström, Peter (2005) Dissecting the Social: On the Principles of Analytical Sociology. Cambridge University Press, New York.
Hedström, Peter and Petri Ylikoski (2010) Causal Mechanisms in the Social Sciences. Annual Review of Sociology 36:49-67.
Hodder, Ian (1982) Theoretical Archaeology: A Reactionary View. In Symbolic and Structural Archaeology, edited by Ian Hodder, pp. 1-16. Cambridge University Press, New York.
Hodder, Ian (1986) Reading the Past: Current Approaches to Interpretation in Archaeology. Cambridge University Press, New York.
Hodder, Ian (1999) The Archaeological Process: An Introduction. Blackwell, Oxford.
Johnson, Matthew (2010) Archaeological Theory: An Introduction. 2nd ed. Blackwell, Oxford.
Mayntz, Renate (2004) Mechanisms in the Analysis of Social Macro-Phenomena. Philosophy of the Social Sciences 34:237-259.
Merton, Robert K. (1968) Social Theory and Social Structure. 3rd ed. Free Press, New York.
Pawson, Ray (2000) Middle-Range Realism. European Journal of Sociology 41:283-325.
Raab, L. Mark and Albert C. Goodyear (1984) Middle-Range Theory in Archaeology: A Critical Review of Origins and Applications. American Antiquity 49:255-268.
Schiffer, Michael B. (1988) The Structure of Archaeological Theory. American Antiquity 53:461-485.
Shott, Michael J. (1998) Status and Role of Formation Theory in Contemporary Archaeological Practice. Journal of Archaeological Research 6:299-330.
Tilly, Charles (2001) Mechanisms in Political Processes. Annual Review of Political Science 4:21-41.